Childhood Unplugged | Cuba

Childhood Unplugged-36

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Delving into my images from Cuba feels like a daunting task given how many images I snapped while there. But starting here, with some childhood unplugged (the abroad edition) feels like a good start. In fact, this is the very reason taking the boys – despite the possibility they may never remember such a trip – was important to me.

An excerpt from Lonely Planet (my go-to guide book for all international travel — not sure how anyone functions without it): “Welcome to a culture where children still play freely in the street and wait staff unconsciously ruffle your toddler’s hair as they glide past your table on their way back to the kitchen. There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about kids’ entertainment here, which is less about sophisticated computer games and more about messing around in the plaza with an improvised baseball bat and a rolled-up ball of plastic”.

Five years ago when Willy and I went to Cuba sans kids (well, Hooper was growing in my belly), we brought an assortment of baseball cards, balls, and t-shirts. We had less room to bring such niceties this time around, but we did manage to bring some coloring books and matchbox cars. Both kids were rather disgusted about giving away brand new cars, but Hooper quickly came around when he witnessed the joy it brought other little boys. Van… not so much. And that’s okay (he is 3, after all).

There is so much life and energy on the streets of Havana; women sitting in simple lounge chairs on the sidewalk, men playing dominos on the street corner, and kids – tons of kids – kicking soccer balls around or playing a game of stickball. It’s so different from the sterility that fills the majority of neighborhoods here in America and perhaps the number one thing that will always draw me to Cuba.

All groups of children were inviting and allowed the boys, despite the inability to speak the same language, to partake; the older boys actually bringing balls over to the boys to give them more of a fair chance at play.

I’m always amazed by the stray dogs and their ability to navigate the streets; their know-with-all and ability to survive the same streets that has me holding my boys’ hands a little tighter despite the fact I most always trust them to walk independently. The kids of Cuba are the same way — street smart; they’re little hearts don’t even seem to miss a beat as they hop barefoot over a pile of who-knows-what, collect their balls and their makeshift wooden goal posts, and move to the side to let some exhaust blowing classic car zoom by. No parents rushing to their rescue, no parents even overseeing the fairness of the game nor the safeness of the field.

The boys also had a blast with the kids that lived next door to the house we rented a room in… crazy, again, how not a word spoken is understood and yet they all run and slam their cars into one another the same. Those boys that lived next door were so warm and inviting and it was Hooper’s favorite pastime during the few hours when Van would nap. And, perhaps the part that warms my mama heart most, he was always invited. Always (as was I – and my camera, for that matter). And each time, the group of kids seemed to change… cousins or other neighborhood kids added in or taken away from the core few.

I’ve always more-or-less advocated for the free-range childhood movement and Cuba seems like the epitome of such; only without the stupid gimmicky title. Over there, it’s not some sort of renegade parenting cliche, it’s just the way.

I’m not sure what the boys will remember of Cuba years from now, but I hope images like these joggle memories and remind them that their parents put up with a lot of the hardships that come with traveling (do I even need to add “with children” because shit, traveling alone is hard) because we believe in it’s importance.

More from Cuba to come… no promises on how soon because, well, the house is an absolute disaster… we have construction that seems to start and stop whenever our super great (please read my sarcasm) contractor decides to start, stop, and restart again (I won’t even mention the fact that we had an upstairs bathtub leaking into our downstairs kitchen), piles and piles of laundry, a growing list of things that need to be sold / donated / thrown away, and the ever-present upkeep with The Bee & The Fox, which following the weekend holiday has me wondering if I can stay afloat.

In any event, please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our Instagram feed.

An Interview, with Jesse Burke

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Jesse Burke is not only the newest member of our Childhood Unplugged group, he’s also the author of “Wild & Precious”, a collection of images he’s shot of his daughters in nature over the last few years. He’s tremendously talented, has a clever vision, and it’s my honor to introduce you to both him and his work. With no further adieu…
Perhaps we should start off with a general introduction. Tell us where you’re from and three things about yourself.
I’m from Stratford, Connecticut but I consider myself a New Englander at large. I spent many days, weeks, months traveling around all of my life. We live in Rhode Island these days.
Things about me:
I’m a huge, nature nerd. I take my family, which is comprised of my three daughters, Clover Lee, Poppy Dee, and Honey Bee, and my wife Kerry, out and explore nature a couple times a week. I think it’s so important for them to be physically in touch with the natural world.
I spent most of my life as a skateboarder. This may not seem like a major thing but it as truly shaped who I am as a person and parent.
In addition to being a photographer I also teach at Rhode Island school night. I went there for school and feel a deep need to stay connected to academia and help students become awesome artists.
I notice you shoot a lot of commercial work but I’ll bet your heart lies in your personal work, which I feel like is common for many photographers. Give us a brief synopsis about your personal project, Wild & Precious.
Wild & Precious documents the road trips I embark on with my daughters in order to get them intimately connected to the natural world. It also serves as a love story between father and daughter, man and nature and children and nature. It shows all of the adventures we have on the road, where we sleep, what we eat, and the objects and animals we come in contact with.jesseburke3Maybe this is too personal, but I’m curious about your own upbringing. Did the way you were personally raised play a direct role in how you are in-turn raising your girls?
I think as parents we take the things we think worked from our own upbringing and push them forward onto our children and we discard the things we don’t think worked very well. I find myself taking a few of the things that happened between my parents and I and utilizing them but I’m really trying to do something different than what my parents did. I’m in a very different situation than they were. My career affords me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my children and include them in my artwork which really is a magical opportunity.
To teach about nature you too must know the ins and outs. Is this something you tackled as an adult or grew up learning from someone else? What kinds of things, in regards to life or nature, do you make a point to teach your daughter, Clover?
As a child I spent a lot of time outside in the woods. I became very familiar with the indigenous species where I lived, which wasn’t all that rural. So I guess you can say I am self taught.  When I moved back to New England after college and started my first real art project I got very invested in the landscape of the natural world of New England. I took it upon myself to really learn about animals and nature. This has of course parlayed into me teaching my children about that, as seen in my Wild & Precious project.  The two things that I really try to instill in my children are compassion and love towards creatures and the earth in general. We’re all ethical vegetarians, so in a simple way they understand the dynamic there and why we make the choices we make. One of the most important things to me is that my children feel a connection to the earth and the animals that inhabit the same space that we do. I don’t want them to be afraid of animals so I’m go out of my way to teach them about the creatures and how they should interact with them. It’s quite amazing to see the babies not afraid of spiders or bees. We have a beehive in our yard and they have zero concern.jesseburke7
I understand you have two younger girls who are too young to join you on these adventures. Are they eager to join in? Do you worry about how the dynamic will change between you and Clover when they are old enough to tag a long? I imagine it’s been a great bonding experience for you and Clover. Maybe you can touch on the bond between you and Clover, too.
I think Poppy, my four-year-old, is very eager to join in because she understands what’s going on. I actually took her on our first 3 person shooting adventure last fall. It didn’t go all that well. I think she is still too small to really endure the hiking in the woods. She got tired really fast. With that said, I’m really excited about the next phase of this project. Including the two little kids into the mix is something that Clover and I are waiting for. Clover often says she can’t wait to teach her sisters all the amazing things that nature has to show them. The bond that Clover and I have is undoubtedly partially due to our experiences together on the road. In fact the introduction to my book is a letter to Clover from me chronicling how I feel about our experience on the road. And the conclusion to the book is a letter from Clover to me. The letters are my favorite part of the book. Even more so than the photographs.jesseburke8How does your wife feel about these adventures? Does she ever want to tag along? How do you think these trips would change if they involved the whole family?
My wife loves that I take the girls out on the shooting adventures to document the process. She doesn’t feel left out because we spend a lot of family time out in the wild as well. But she knows when I take the girls on a road trip to shoot for the series that it’s work and not all fun. She respects the difference and can totally appreciate it. I feel so lucky to have a partner that encourages and supports my artistic practice.
My motherly instinct is very attracted to the Free Range kids movement, which – in short – is about trusting our children to do more for themselves and allowing them independence. I feel like what you are doing is very in-line with this kind of parenting. Would you agree?
I totally agree. I think we need to let our children be as independent as possible and learn things from experience. I’m a big fan of nature play and free range parenting.
You’re raising three girls. What are the more important lessons you want them to take away from life?
To be kind, patient and understanding, to love the earth and each other, and to be confident and strong.jesseburke10
How would Clover describe these trips? Are there ever times she doesn’t want to go or is it something she always looks forward to?
I believe Clover would describe the trips very much like I do. She looks forward to them as a getaway, a vacation of sorts. She looks forward to the opportunity to spend time alone with dad and go out into the world and explore these amazing locations. The kid has seen more amazing things and done more amazing things than I have and she’s only 9.
Curious how long a typical trip is and how you work around school. Are you okay with her missing a few days of school for the sake of learning outdoors? 
Usually the road trips last between three and five days. We try to take them when there’s a break from school, but I am okay with her missing a day or two for the sake of this. I think she learns a lot out in the woods in a different way than she could ever learn in school. Different things but equally important.jesseburke2
I love the images of Clover in the hotel rooms. Can you touch on what those images represent and why they’re included in the series?
The sleeping images are meant to represent a resting point, both literally and metaphorically, in the bigger adventures. They serve the more precious end of the scale. She is tired and vulnerable and I see that working with the wild child you see in the other images. They are meant to also serve as moments of pause in the book, moments of reflection on what we encounter that day and what may come tomorrow. They are spread out across the book like a backbone. In fact the first and last picture you see are her asleep. This is meant to give the viewer the experience that possibly the entire book is a dream. The sleeping images came into play one night when we were back at our hotel and I decided to take some pictures of Clover sleeping because the stripes on her shirt looked amazing against the stripes of the sheets. When I woke up in the morning she said she had been dreaming of salamanders, that we were out in the woods and she was catching them. Later on that day our plans got sidetracked and we ended up parking in some random spot and hiking into the middle of nowhere. We stumbled upon this stream where Clover found tons of salamanders and ended up catching them and playing. The dream acted as a premonition in some way to the day that was about to come. I took that as a special sign to continue to photograph her sleeping. In fact, I photograph her sleeping every night now when we’re in the hotels. I started to take pictures of the two girls sleeping together on the two most recent trips.
Where has this project taken you?
We spend a lot of time in New England, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. We spent some time in North Carolina, Virginia, lots of time in the northwest corner, the Olympic national Park in Washington state. We’ve also been out to the desert of Arizona and the coast of Eastern Canada.
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I notice the bloody nose and the broken arm. Do share.
There are images scattered throughout the project and book. They are meant to act as gut punches. Images that make you feel an immediate emotional reaction to the physicality of being young and fragile. These images often come in the form of injury. Clover had eye surgery when she was three, a broken wrist at summer camp when she was six, and a basic bloody nose. These images are meant to allow the viewer to feel the vulnerable and precious side.jesseburke6
Tell us about all the dead animals and why you feel drawn to capture them. 
I think the animals in Wild & Precious act as supporting characters in the play. We often desire to be connected to the creatures we encounter but it’s impossible because of their fear of humans. So oftentimes the only way we get to touch them and be physical with them is when they’re dead. My children have overcome the fear of dead animals. It’s not strange to touch a dead animal but rather a way of experiencing a deeper connection with the animal world. On a side note, death is so closely related to sleeping that the animals also appear to be sleeping in the pictures, which mimics the sleeping of Clover. There’s also a notion of masking throughout the series where faces are secured, both animal and human.
The feel of your photos remind me some of Sally Mann, who is one of my favorite photographers. Can you discuss some photographers that have influenced you over the years?
Sally Mann and Wynn Bullock have served as endless inspiration for me. The way that they capture portraiture and it’s relationship to the landscape is absent particularly when Bullock’s images of his daughters at the beach and in the woods.jesseburke4
 
What do you think is the most important lesson Clover has learned since you started this project? 
I think the most important lesson she could have learned from any of our adventures is to be courageous and confident. She does things and acts in ways that often make me feel very proud to have helped her acquire such secure grasp on who she is and what she’s capable of.
How about an important lesson you, yourself, have learned?
One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in my life came on these roads trips. Clover taught me to let go of being in control and to collaborate with her. To have confidence in her abilities and to see her as a partner and to not be such a dictator. I have a tendency to be a bit of an overlord when it comes to producing my photographs. She showed me that the best opportunities come from working together and experiencing the moment not as a dictator with the subject but as a teacher and a student where the relationship is reciprocal. I’m stubborn, it took me many frustrating experiences to get to the point where I am today. But I thank her for that, because in the end it’s what makes the images more unique and special.
Your project is going to be released as a book, which is awesome. Can you tell us a bit about what that journey has been like? When will the book be released and where can we find it? 
Yes, the book will be released this fall to coincide with a solo show at my gallery in New York, ClampArt. The book is being published by Daylight Books. It’s been an amazing partnership and experience to bring this book and project to life. Creating the book, editing the pictures, talking about the ideas with essayists, have all brought the project full circle and into much more clarity in my mind. Sequencing the images in the book has also helped me establish relationships between pictures that I never thought possible. It’s a precursor to how the exhibition will look and feel in the gallery space.
As for where you can get the book, I will be setting up a pre-sale website. So stay tuned for that. You’ll be able to buy the books directly from me and also some goodies that come along with the book. We’re in the progress of creating objects and items that will be Wild & Precious affiliated that will be for sale on our website. Things such as hats, stickers and other things. This part of the project is really fun for us.jesseburke5
Will the book contain any images from your instagram feed? Would love to hear your general thoughts in regards to mobile documentation. 
Ah yes, one of my favorite parts of the project has been shooting with my phone in addition to my camera. I approach photography in a very different way with my phone so incorporating the images from my Instagram feed and iPhone into the project was an amazing opportunity to bring two seemingly disparate worlds together. The work is all created at the same time from the and the same mindset so it only made sense that they were family and live together in the book and exhibition. I’m really excited about this because I feel that the Instagram images are much looser and more fun in someways to my formally composed camera pictures. I can’t wait for people to see this book and experience the adventures we go on and hopefully be inspired to take their own adventures. It’s a wild and amazing world out there and we as parents need to make sure our children are aware of just how magical it is.

Speaking of mobile documentation, Jesse is moderating the Childhood Unplugged Instagram feed this week. Hop on over to say hello and check out his features. Thanks for your time, Jesse, and best of luck with Wild & Precious

Fear

ashley-118Venice ashley-116VeniceI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance, for me, to let kids be kids; to openly explore their environment and to – more or less – take a back seat approach when it’s appropriate. But battling this outlook is an underlying fear I think we all face as mothers; an innate versus society-induced drive to coddle, to protect, and to give our children every ounce of our attention.
Before becoming a mother, I lived without any inhibitions (I’ve probably made my own mother’s head spin all the way around once or twice). I’ve been sky diving twice, I attended big outrageous parties in the middle of the desert that were not – shall we say – legal, I visited India (just Janet and I) and ended up – after many stops at checkpoints that contained several men with not one but two machine guns slung over each shoulder – in Pakistan at a time it was not – shall we say – safe to be there. And those are just the things I’m willing to admit here publicly.
And so, as a mother, I try to hold on to the notion that it’s okay to make mistakes and okay to explore and – more or less – trust the world; And that doing so will build a stronger human being based on the notion that I identify greatly with all I have done in my life and believe deeply that it has shaped what I trust to be a healthy perspective on life and a humble confidence in myself and my fellow man.
I don’t believe in parenting from behind a screen door of mesh made of fear. And yet, as I reflect on things that have happened over just the last year or so, I wonder if I’m really confident enough to practice what I preach because, well, I struggle with my own fears too.
My grandma died just a day or two after I had my spinal fusion. I was in the hospital when I learned that my dad had found her, still somewhat conscious, on the floor in her home office. She was 96 years old and despite her age, it came as a shock to all of us. She showed no signs of slowing down, refused all help, and lived alone completely independently.
When I came home after two weeks in the hospital, I experienced horrible opiate withdrawals. I had been on IV dilaudid for the full time I was in the hospital. If you google dilaudid, you’ll read urban dictionary’s definition: medical heroin. And it’s no joke; it’s something like one chemical compound off of heroin. It didn’t live up to the hype, but I think I was in so much pain that it did nothing more than knock me out and allow me to rest for an hour or two until I woke up in dire pain and repeated the process all over again. By the time I was home, I felt nauseous, couldn’t eat, and was still in horrible pain. Two months after coming home, I did something awful to my neck; so awful that I can say I was in more pain than I ever had been. Meaning it topped two natural births to large babies as well as the pain I experienced immediately post operatively. I laid helpless in bed for about two weeks and got a glimpse of what it would be like to be chronically disabled. A few weeks after healing from that, I got a stomach virus that made me so dehydrated that I passed out – completely – at home. An ambulance took me to the hospital, where I spent another few days loading up on IV fluids.
Prior to moving – as many of you already know – we watched helplessly as Sarah (our dog) got hit by a car. The vision still runs over and over again in my mind. And, more than anything, pointed to the fact that life can change in an instant right before your eyes. Following her death, the way we started talking to one another changed; “Have a fun trip” turned into “Please make sure you drive safely and that the kids are strapped in well”.
Just after moving to our new home, Willy came upon a scene where a pedestrian had been hit just a mile from our home. She flew at least 60 feet. The look on the faces of the two bikers that witnessed it is imprinted in Willy’s memory; I can almost see it myself, and I wasn’t even there.
While in Hawaii last year we got word that Willy’s grandma was in the hospital. Again, it was – more or less – unexpected. She was discharged and placed on hospice care with a poor prognosis. Thankfully, she’s still with us and fighting the good fight.
I came across the loss of the sweetest red-headed boy on Instagram and haven’t been able to shake him, or his family, from my mind. Ryan was three when he chased a Frisbee into the street and was hit by a truck. It was so painful to read about, I couldn’t even muster up a few words of condolences to his family. It hits home, as I’m sure it does for all of us.
And, of course, my recent car accident on the freeway… where all three cars involved were a total loss. I can still see that pickup truck coming straight at me. I wasn’t my fault, though at times I think it would be easier to deal with if it had been; It’s easier to say things like “I’ll never travel that close to the car in front of me again” or “I won’t ever check my phone while driving again” because statements like those insinuate some degree of control. Instead, all I can say is “I hope a truck on the freeway doesn’t fly into me out of nowhere again” and, well, that’s not very comforting — to know that I, or none of us for that matter, have control to stop things that are out of our control is scary.
The sum of all these scenarios points to one brutal conclusion: life is fragile, pain is real, and the paths we all walk are never straight. And these aren’t conclusions you want to hear or face or – dare I say – accept as a mother. We want life to be hardy and safe and dependable so we can let our children off of our proverbial leashes and enable them to make mistakes and learn and grow.
I’m reminded of a quote I recently read over on The Ma Books: “Only later did I come to understand that to be a mother is to be an illusion. No matter how vigilant, in the end a mother can’t protect her child – not from pain, or horror, or the nightmare of violence, from sealed trains moving rapidly in the wrong direction, the depravity of strangers, trapdoors, abysses, fires, cars in the rain, from chance” (Nicole Krauss, Great House). That quote brings tears to my eyes, every time.
I really do believe in letting my kids be kids; I believe in allowing them to make mistakes. I believe in allowing my kids to fall and struggle and learn and grow. My hope is that I can raise them to be independent and confident. But there are cracks in concrete just like there are holes in fences and sometimes little bits of life happenings become weights, each of them stacked upon the other, weighing me down and trying to force me into surrendering to fear.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t have a conclusion that suggests it’s all okay; I only have the truth that it’s not always okay and that things can change at the drop of a hat. I guess the take home message is that you can’t plan your life around unexpected tragedies nor can you plan your life around the idea that everything will be okay, always. So I guess you can dumb it down even further and simply say you cannot plan life; You can merely enjoy the days, the moments, and surround ourselves with those we love with the harsh reality that none of us will be here forever.
Photos by Tish Carlson

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The Overprotected Child

playground4Every now and again I’ll write a post that really means something to me and I’ll let it sit, completed, in my drafts bin for months, even years. I haven’t quite figured out why. I think it bothers me to post something that I feel so deeply about only to have it soon be buried underneath future posts. But I also can’t stand for this post to sit in my drafts bin any longer…
One of my fellow Childhood Unplugged photographers turned me on to an article published by The Atlantic called, “The Overprotected Kid”. The subtitle states, “A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery – without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution”. The article highlights the transformation of playgrounds in the US from the 1960s and 70s until now, noting that changes were made due to safety concerns without much of a change in the number of injuries that have occurred on a playground between then and now. It speaks to how consumed we, as parents, have become with safety and how driven we have become by fear. This fear has led to very little unsupervised playtime, which the article states can be detrimental to the development of a child. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t agree.
So what is this “new” playground like, you ask? Well it takes up half an acre and consists of things like tires, mattresses, a creek with a faded plastic boat, mud, wood, and other materials that allow the “playground” to transform daily. Contrary to many of the playgrounds we’re used to, “there are no bright colors, or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide topped by a red steering wheel or a tic-tac-toe board; no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off; no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek)”.thelandplayground2
Childhood has changed. I was just having a conversation with friends when one admitted that, back in day (she grew up in the 60s-70s) when the cops used to show up to the parties, they’d simply hold their joints under the table and blatantly deny the presence of any drugs or alcohol. And the cops, who could certainly smell the marijuana in the air, would “take their word for it” and move on. In the same conversation, someone else admitted that he was in the car when his group of friends got pulled over for drunk driving (this was also in the 60s-70s). Instead of arresting anyone, the cop asked if anyone in the car was sober and took another kids word for it when one raised his hand and volunteered to drive the rest of the way home. I’m not saying I want my kids to be able to get away with doing drugs, nor do I think cops should turn a blind eye to drunk drivers; my point is only that times have changed and it’s affected the way our children interact with their world. The article states, “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70’s – walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap – are now routine”. It continues, “When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost – and gained – as we’ve succumbed to them?”.
The article goes on to say that somewhere along the line risk became synonymous with hazard and due mostly to fear of lawsuits, playgrounds began to change substantially. And now, they’re all the same. From one playground to the next, you’ll notice that all the slides are at the same heights and angles and many share the same accessories. There are no elements of surprise and whether you’re in California or Kansas, chances are your kid is playing on the same blue and orange painted equipment with rubber pavement as my kids. And if you’re kids are like my kids, the actual equipment itself holds their attention for a whopping 10 minutes or so. After that initial 10 minutes is up, I rely on them interacting with other children (fingers crossed there is someone there for them to play with), the sandbox, or – if they’re lucky – their bike / scooter I brought for them to ride around on. And am I the only one that gets annoyed by the constant signage, “use caution”, “intended for children ages 2-5”, “adult supervision required”, and so on and so forth? It reminds me of a comedy show I saw with Demetri Martin where he does this whole bit about signage and how stupid it is, in general. He talks about driving across a bridge in the summer time that has a sign that reads, “May be icy”. He suggested that instead of concentrating on the negative, signs ought to concentrate on the positive; like, instead, how ’bout it read, “May not be icy”. It translates to mean the same thing, doesn’t it? I digress.
“Two parents sued when their child fell over a stump in a small redwood forest that was part of a playground. They had a basis for the lawsuit. After all, the latest safety handbook advises designers to ‘look out for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.’ But adults have come to the mistaken view ‘that children must somehow be sheltered from all risks of injury. In the real world, life is filled with risks – financial, physical, emotional, social – and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development”. It’s as if we’ve taken the trust for our children to properly judge the safety of a situation away. I hate watching my boys in yards where there is a pool, for example. But rather than chase them all over the place, like those guys who tease the bulls with those red flags, I sit back and wait for them to fall in with the reassurance that I will simply jump in after them. I remind myself that a few seconds under water will not kill them. Maybe some people may find me crazy for doing such, but I trust in their ability to know that playing by the water’s edge is not safe. What I don’t trust is their ability to swim and that’s why I sit out there with them, at all times, carefully observing, or “loitering with intent“, as the article calls it. And to this day, neither Hooper nor Van has fallen into the pool while playing around it.
I agree that learning to negotiate risks is an important part of survival. I mean the human race has survived as a whole because of our abilities to defend ourselves, run from danger, and be independent. The article states, “Even today, growing up is a process of managing fears and learning to arrive at sound decisions. By engaging in risky play, children are effectively subjecting themselves to a form of exposure therapy, in which they force themselves to do the thing they’re afraid of in order to overcome their fear”.
Hooper became a bit more daring when he transformed from toddler to kid, but I would describe him as far from reckless. Both boys are terrified of cars in the street or parking lot. When Van hears a car’s engine start in the parking lot, he latches on to my leg. Because the fear is innate in them, when we cross the street or ride bikes I make it a point to educate them about crosswalks or looking both ways but I’m careful to instill more fear and I speak to them in a calm and matter-of-fact voice. I think it’s important to know your children and teach to their individual levels of understanding, or in this case fear.playground5
Even with the introduction of the safety handbook for playgrounds that subsequently led to the change of all playgrounds today (due in large part to fear of lawsuits in situations where the playgrounds were not up to the new codes), there has been little change in the rate of injury between then and now; “We might accept a few more phobias in our children in exchange for fewer injuries. But the final irony is that our close attention to safety has not in fact made a tremendous difference in the number of accidents children have. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which monitors hospital visits, the frequency of emergency-room visits related to playground equipment, including home equipment, in 1980 was 156,000 or one visit per 1,452 Americans. In 2012, it was 271,475, or one per 1,156 Americans”.
It seems that these days we are driven to shelter our children; encouraged to always hold their hand and guide them and supervise them. But, in-doing-so we can also dissemble them by making them reliant on us for safety and protection, guidance and direction. When you work at a job, for example, and show you are able to conquer a task with competence, you move up the ladder and are given more responsibilities and, as a result, you build confidence and independence and self-worth. The same goes, or used to go, for raising children; “Children used to gradually take on responsibilities, year by year. They crossed the road, went to the store; eventually some would get neighborhood jobs. Their pride was wrapped up in competence and independence, which grew as they tried and mastered activities they hadn’t known how to do the previous year. But these days, middle-class children skip these milestones. They spend a lot of time in the company of adults, so they can talk and think like them, but they never build up the confidence to be truly independent and self-reliant”.
The article concludes in differentiating between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness); “We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time panic rises”. 
It’s difficult to trust my boys at the age they’re at and I’m still adjusting to letting go and encouraging exploration; but I think it’s a battle worth fighting. I remind myself often of the big picture. I’m not raising children, I’m raising future adults.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you encourage your children to take risks? How did you grow up? Did you have a lot of unsupervised time as a child? And if you’re a grandparent, how do you feel things have changed (or not changed) since you raised your kids? 

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